The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sued Texas Gov. Rick Perry because he has called for a day of prayer and fasting on August 6. The event, sponsored by the American Family Association, will take place in Reliant Stadium – home of the NFL Texans – in Houston. (For more information, go to TheResponseUSA.com)
FFRF is trying to convince a judge to keep this event from happening at all. First, secular fundamentalists kicked prayer out of school. Now they are trying to kick it out of the public square altogether.
The folks at FFRF are like the Puritans of old, who were afraid that some people, somewhere, were enjoying themselves. The folks at FFRF are desperately afraid that someone, somewhere, is enjoying the free exercise of religion.
According to its website, FFRF exists “to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.”
Of course the main problem with that mission statement is that the “separation between church and state” is not a constitutional principle at all. You will look in vain for the phrase “separation of church and state” anywhere in the document created by the Founders. You could have found it in the constitution of the old Soviet Union, which ought to tell you something, but it’s just not in our founding document at all.
Now there is a wall there, but it is not between church and state. It is a high and impenetrable wall between the state and the church. The state is forbidden by the First Amendment from meddling in the affairs of the church. It can’t tell it what to believe, how to worship, what to pray, or what to preach from its pulpits.
But there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the church from impacting the state, whether it does so by speaking truth to political power, or by advancing its cherished moral ideals in the public square.
The folks at FFRF would be well-advised to take some remedial coursework in basic English grammar. This is for the simple reason that the Constitution nowhere guarantees to anyone anywhere the right to be free FROM religion. What it guarantees is freedom OF religion.
You could look it up. It’s right there in plain sight, not hiding or trying to be slippery, ambiguous or evasive. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereOF” (emphasis mine).
And since The Response involves not only the constitutional rights to freedom of religion but of speech and assembly as well, FFRF is essentially seeking to disembowel the First Amendment in one fell swoop.
Christians are not sub-citizens, who must abandon their moral principles when they enter debates over public policy while everybody else gets to keep theirs. It is reprehensible for an organization to seek to deny people of faith the exercise of their full panoply of constitutional rights, but that is the very reason for the existence of FFRF.
Quite simply, the Constitution prohibits the state from interfering with the church, but does not prohibit the church from influencing the state.
And there is no limit whatsoever to what states may do in the realm of religious expression. The First Amendment ties only the hands of the federal government. Once again, this truth is hiding in plain sight. “CONGRESS shall make no law…” Congress was prohibited from picking one Christian denomination and making it the official church of the United States (the Establishment clause) and flatly prohibited from telling the church what to do (the Free Exercise clause).
In fact, the real separation in the First Amendment is not between church and state but between the federal government and the individual states. The federal government is stringently forbidden to extend its tyrannical little hand into the operation of religious liberty in the individual states. States have unfettered religious liberty under the Constitution, and can do whatever they and their state constitutions permit.
Nine of the 13 states at the time of the Founding had what we would call “established” churches today. That is, they had one Christian denomination which had some kind of preference in law and received some kind of taxpayer support.
Many states required lawmakers to swear an oath affirming that they believed in the inspiration and authority of both the Old and New Testaments before taking office.
Thomas Jefferson, that towering icon of the left, understood this concept quite well.Said he, “Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority” (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808). (Emphasis mine.)
So Jefferson believed that the states had the right to “prescribe any religious exercise(s)” they wanted to. When Rick Perry, as the governor of one of the individual states, calls for a day of fasting and prayer, he’s squarely within the parameters of the Constitution.
It’s the Freedom From Religion Foundation that’s off in the weeds on this one. Looks likes it time for them to brush up on their grammar, the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and American history.
By the way, the American Family Association owes the FFRF a tremendous debt of gratitude. Its 19-page lawsuit talks about the AFA as much as Gov. Perry, and manages to place both our doctrinal statement and our mission statement in the federal record for all time. We couldn’t pay for that kind of exposure, and our gratitude knows no bounds.
Hilariously, the director of FFRF says, “Nothing fails like prayer.” If she actually believed that, she wouldn’t care what Gov. Perry or anyone else was doing on Aug. 6. In fact, if she believed it, she’d want us holding events like this every weekend.
So it’s time to get back to the Constitution, back to freedom, back to religious liberty, and on to Reliant Stadium on August 6.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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The Moral Liberal contributing editor, Bryan Fischer, is Director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at the American Family Association, and is the host of the daily ‘Focal Point’ radio talk program on AFR Talk, a division of the American Family Association. ‘Focal Point’ airs live from 1-3 pm Central Time, and is also simulcast on the AFA Channel, which can be seen on the Sky Angel network.